Exploring Calascio

View of Calascio and Rocca Calascio from the cemetery

View of Calascio and Rocca Calascio from the cemetery

June 27, 2011

After treating my dehydrated body to a coke, I walked to the castle. I was alone at the castle for a while. First it felt scary to walk alone along the massive walls. As I relaxed it became magical. Then other tourists arrived to break the spell. Most were Italian, but some were English, Scottish or  German. Later I tried to beg a ride down to the town of Calascio from Paolo, the hotel owner. He gave me the phone numbers of the three Americans in Calascio. Paolo said I should buy a house here and learn Italian with the other Americani. He had his children direct me to the path. The path is much quicker than the road. It crosses the road 3 or 4 times.

I walked through the town and found churches, buildings that were empty, buildings with large cracks, a building with workers, and many buildings with flowers in front and lace in the windows. One of the first streets I found was Via di Mezzo la Terra or middle Earth Street. I felt suddenly transported to a Tolkien novel.

Via di Mezzo La Terra

At 4 pm I found a computer in Vittoria’s Bar on the lowest or main street where I had a gelato. The girl behind the counter said I could use the computer “quando vuole”. Vuole, “you want,” is a word I studied very much, but it took me a minute to register that she was actually offering me free access to a computer.

The step-bridge that Vittoria crosses to get from her house to the road.

The step-bridge that Vittoria crosses to get from her house to the road.

After writing home, I headed back up the hill to return to my room. On the top street, I began to look for the start of the path. I knew I was close. I watched a woman walk over a stepped metal bridge that connected the door to her house to the road and then I asked her where the path was using my best Italian. She didn’t understand me, so she shouted down the hill to a man. When she said I was Americani, he quickly found several other people. Suddenly there were people asking me where I was from in English. “Wisconsin”. “Where in Wisconsin?” “Eau Claire.” “NO! We’re from Ettrick!” Thus I met Marissa and Fred who have a house in Calascio and a farm about one hour from my house in Eau Claire. In no time I was sitting at their dining room table discussing our ancestors and Windber, Pennsylvania. I heard their story: how Fred came to Calascio to find his roots and met Marissa. They have been married for 42 years. Marissa said, “We are all Calascini, we are all cousins.”

It felt like I was back in Windber in a relative’s kitchen. Everyone knows about Windber. When Calascini emmigrated in the late 1800’s, either they went to Windber, Pennsylvania or to Riverton or Toluca, Illinois. Everyone was racking their brains for my family connections.

Marissa

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Hiking to the Summit

Count the sheep as they jump over the water trough.

The third day of hiking was much like the the first in length and intensity. We started at Agriturismo Valle Scannese da Gregorio where many stayed for the night. Gregorio’s farm is close to Scanno and features a restaurant, retail shop, and rooms.

We ended the day at 1666 m. (5,466 ft.) at  Stazzo Casone Chiarono. Literally this translates as the big sheepfold house of Chiarano. The shepherds will stay at this large shepherd hut with the sheep until the August transhumanza. Mountains and rocky outcroppings ring this high green plain. Brown ski slopes of Monte Pratello crisscross one mountain to the east.

We are treated to traditional shepherd’s steak (bread topped with cheese and mint and baked with milk) and a stew mixture made of a dandelion-like wild greens served over dry bread. After staying to watch the Romanian cheesemaker make fresh ricotta, we pile into his car for the ride back to Anversa. With loud Romanian folk music blasting, we drove down to the National park entrance, through valley towns and back to the restaurant for one more meal as a group.

View from 1666 m. (5,466 ft.).

We made it!

Fresh ricotta ready after twenty minutes.

Fresh ricotta ready after twenty minutes.

Transhumanza History Resources

While at the Shanti Centre, I found a trove of books on Abruzzo travel and some history books. I started to read Abruzzo Along the Shepherds’ Tracks and took some notes. Stephanie graciously offered the book to me since it was my history. I am especially grateful now that I cannot find it new, only used. A search online this morning turned up this abbreviated version online: http://www.abruzzomoliseheritagesociety.org/TRATTURIeTRANSUMANZA.pdf

The publisher of the book does have ABRUZZO. Guida Storico-Artista and advertises it as the guide selected by George Clooney for the film “The American”. I found an English version: Abruzzo. History and Art Guide.

Getting to Calascio

In all of my research on Calascio, I had not devised a plan to get there. Why? Because I did not want to rent a car. Why? I would love to say that my reason is totally my  green travel scruples, but fear of driving in the mountains played a large part. I have become a flat-lander here in Wisconsin. A few months before leaving  I found a bus schedule, so I knew car free travel was possible. Finding a place to stay within walking distance was the bigger obstacle. When I found  a B&B or an agriturisimo, they required a car. The bus left from L’Aquila, but again I could not find a room near the bus line. I started to think of how to make a day trip. Leave my luggage in a hotel in Pescara or Chieti and bus to L’Aquila then bus to Calascio. Walk around Calascio, then return. The free time at the yoga retreat paid off.  Bingo! I found Rifugio della Rocca in an Abruzzo Bradt Travel Guide on the bookshelf in the den. I made a reservation. After a night in Pescara, I left in the early morning for L’Aquila then Calascio. A young man returning to the University in L’Aquila was also taking the bus. He told me about the two buses. One is for university students and one for the center of town and the Collemaggio Bus Terminal. He was in a dorm during the earthquake, but survived. The university is now on the outskirts of town. Thanks to him I took the correct bus. I just did not plan on how to get from the bus stop in Calascio to the Rifugio, nor did I realize how far Rocca Calascio is from Calascio. I told the bus driver where I was going and he dropped me off at the closest possible spot. In hind sight, I should have known to get off in the center of town, find a bar (a coffee shop in Italy) and find a phone. Someone at the Rifugio could have given me a lift.

The bus dropped me off in this intersection with no businesses and no phone. The Rifugio della Rocca is 3km all up hill. I started to walk, pulling my luggage.

00:55  11:30  L’Aquila-Terminal Bus Collemaggio  Calascio  12:25 Vedi il dettaglilo della corsa

This wonderful Mother and Daughter gave me a ride up the hill to the Rifugio della Rocca.

Yoga in the Foothills

Excerpts from emails to my husband:

I am at the yoga center. Now I am with a whole new group of people and it takes a while to become a group. Everyone is British as I expected. My ear was just getting used to Italian and now I am hearing a variety of British accents. I can’t understand half of the  conversations.

I was sorry to leave the mountains. I did not leave very early. I did more laundry as a preventative against poison ivy or-whatever is making my hands and feet bubble and itch again. Then I had to wait for a ride to Sulmona from someone from the farm. After my clothes dried, I had to wait for the afternoon lunch and rest time to end. Marcello who works there told me 3 o’clock. Manuella told me that he went back to Anversa to eat with his mother. Then I saw Manuella eating with her son Giacomo in an outdoor area at the side of the restaurant. Later, I saw Nunzio eating in the restaurant with his wife, Electra. Eventually Giacomo took me to Sulmona with Bourbonne, his Abruzzo sheep dog/golden retriever mix puppy. The puppy needed shots at the vet in Sulmona. I told him he should call the dog Jack Daniels. I explained cheese heads to Giacomo. He said he had seen the foam hats in American movies.

So here I am at the Shanti Centre until the 26th. I arrived in the dark and was surprised this morning by the landscapes in the hazy sunlight. Each scene seems to be lifted right out of an oil painting.

* * *

I am finally getting into relaxing. It is very hot – 29 or so and it is 10:30. We do yoga at 8 am then breakfast, time to read, swim, sun, or relax. We will have lunch and more free time. On my first day I had a massage. Stephanie’s massage hands found hiking kinks I didn’t know I had.  We do another yoga class  on the big deck at 5:30, then dinner. There is a sauna and solar hut tub. The other day, I slowly walked to Casoli, a 90 minute walk. They were ready to send out a search party after me. I was fine. We went to Atri yesterday and it was lovely. An old village with beautiful churches. We went out to eat last night. Our day to do yoga at the beach is tomorrow.

* * *

I think I am about ready to leave here and go home. But I have not seen Calascio yet. I have 3 nights to work out.  We are having a lazy day today. Yoga this evening and a barbeque. The yoga has been wonderful. Stephanie is a great teacher. I still cannot understand the Brits half the time.

Spent a wonderful day on the beach. Making reservations. Bye for now.

* * *

HOTEL ALBA

Gentile Sig.ra  Confermo la Sua prenotazione per domani  sera 26/06/2011  una stanza singola.
Grazie ci vediamo domani sera. Linda
* * *
John,
I will leave this little slice of heaven about 7:30 tonight after a dinner. Rupert is a great cook. You have competition. It is all vegetarian and he serves wonderful food with a variety and balance.  I do feel quite healthy. I hope there is internet at tonight’s hotel in Pescara.
Chris

Walking through Scanno

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Scanno and its people have been favorite subjects for photographers, such as Henry Cartier-Bresson, Pietro di Rienzo and Mario Giacomelli.  After leaving the lake area, we walked the sheep through the crooked and stepped streets of this charming medieval hilltown. Here we became the subject of many photographs by both tourists and towns people . Leaving … Continue reading

Lake Scanno and Lunch

This gallery contains 19 photos.

We hiked down a steep hill to Lake Scanno. This was not too vigorous. There was no way to get lost as long as you went down hill. The trick was to avoid branches in your face as you wound down thin paths. When we arrived at Lake Scanno, a band was playing music. Nunzio … Continue reading

Breakfast

This gallery contains 7 photos.

On the second day of hiking, I was up early and ready for another long day. I took early morning pictures of Frattura with one or two sheep dogs following me around the town. The British chap sat on a bench at one end of town looking towards Scanno and painting a landscape in his … Continue reading

People

I am often asked how many people were on the transhumanza. The number changed daily. Sometimes it changed part way through the day as people met up with us or left early. Here is what I remember.

An American family living in Rome: a mother, father, two sons and a niece from Portland, Oregon.  Because the sons were preparing to audition for a place in an orchestra, they left at times to practice.

A British family: The mother and father own a house in the French Alps and the grown daughter lives in Vancouver British Columbia.

A British couple: He painted wonderful watercolors in his sketchbook and claims to never make any watercolors bigger than the landscapes he produced on this trip. She was lively and friendly making for a great hiking companion.

An American woman from Alabama who lives in Kyoto where her partner teaches American history: She was working at the farm for 5 weeks on a trip devoted to studying organic agriculture in Italy. We spent many hours together hiking. She was happy to find another “single woman” on the trip. She tried to advise me to be a balanced woman and sometimes do things for myself. I assured her that I was an artist and possessed a healthy dose of selfishness. I felt a connection to her very quickly because my son just returned from a Rotary Youth Exchange in Japan. We talked about many things, including the differences between the Japanese and the Italian cultures.

An Italian mother and daughter: The teenage daughter was the same age as the American niece from Portland

An Italian woman who generously taught me Italian when we hiked together.

A Northern Italian hippie couple who drove a VW style van. I thought they would have been family friends if they lived in Eau Claire. They were also on the WWOOF program to learn about organic farms. They stayed on to work at the farm. We had many wonderful conversations, but I am afraid they were mostly in English and the man sometimes felt left out of the conversations.

An Italian couple: I did not talk to them very often. He is the one who took my picture with the big loaf of bread and often helped to pour wine from the big jugs. She had blond hair tied back with a headband. They definitely seemed like experienced hikers.

Italian sisters from Pescara: They interpreted for the English speakers whenever needed. They spend lots of free time at the farm and treat Nunzio, the owner, as an uncle. They would like to own some property in the country, but Anversa is too far from Pescara for a daily commute.

Young Italian couple with a five year old daughter and younger son: They hiked enthusiastically with us during the first day. On the second day, they met up with us in Scanno.

Another American Family living in Rome: The parents and tween daughter and son. They are friends with the first American family, but arrived the second day. They were soon moving back to America for a change in assignment. The husband works with food aid and the wife is an artist.

An Italian man and his Italian speaking Guatemalan wife: They were very friendly. I muddled through my first long conversation in Italian with him. I was so thrilled. We were comparing Catholicism and Buddhism. I am sure I do not know how to say pray, but we communicated.

An Italian man with a big camera: He was there for some of the trip.

I am counting 30 here, but may be off.

Of course there was Nunzio Marcelli who sometimes walked with us and sometimes organized parts of the trip on the side with other local businesses.  Also there were the shepherds (maybe 3), the horse handlers (in one picture I see three of them), Domenico, the bald man in the red T-shirt who worked at the farm and often took up the rear of the hike, and the Romanian cheesemaker. Nunzio’s staff delivered food or sleeping bags at various points along the way.

Shepherds, Abruzzo Mountain Life and the Transhumanza Tradition

Two shepherds and participant

From pre-Roman times until the late 1900’s all aspects of  life in an Abruzzo hilltown were shaped by sheep-rearing and the wool industry. Because the pastures for large flocks were outside of the towns, villages became tightly knit houses and fortresses clinging to steep hillsides. Those who profited from the sheep, built beautiful homes in the villages and gave generously to the local churches. The majority of men lived away from the village for most of the year. The transhumanza was traditionally a way to feed the sheep during the long, harsh Abruzzo winters. Snow covered the ground all winter. So in September, the shepherds took the sheep south all the way to warmer Puglia where the grass flourished in the winter, but dried out in the summer.  They returned along the same legislated trails or tratturi in May to take advantage of the lush pastures in the mountains. There were four major tratturi in the region. The shepherds from Anversa, Scanno, and Sulmona would take one of the inland routes. The shepherds from Calascio would head toward the  Adriatic coast walking almost 250 kilometers on their way to Foggia, Puglia.

When the shepherds returned in May, they took the sheep to the higher pastures in the mountains of the region. The shepherds were given two days off of work every fifteen days during the summer. The shepherds were slaves. They may have owned five sheep of their own, but worked for the wealthy families. The wave of emmigration to the United States in the late 1800’s gave them a chance for freedom and broke the economic system of the wealthy families. The transhumanza was in jeopardy at the time as new laws in Puglia encouraged crop growing.  Grazing land began to disappear as social and economic changes dismantled the system of sheep-rearing and craft production that sustained the region for many centuries. There are few to no Italian shepherds anymore. The shepherds on our transhumanza were Romanian.

The shepherds on our trek used a combination of whistles, sticks, dogs, and a mule to guide the sheep. The sheep seemed to follow the mule. The shepherds whistled signals to the mule, dogs, or sheep. I am not sure which. If a sheep started to stray or became lazy, the shepherd beat the ground near the slowpoke with his bastone. I would hear, “vai, vai, vai” and chants almost like football cheers, “Hey, hey”. Once in a while I understood a word like “pigra”, lazy. One older sheep gave up and a shepherd tied it to a horse for part of the trip. The white Abruzzo sheep dogs were gentle and circled around the edges of the herd when they were stopped to graze. They mingled easily with people in between working stints. Once in a while all the dogs would take off in one direction barking and running into the woods. Wolves are present in the Abruzzo parks and have taken a few of Nunzio’s sheep in recent weeks. I never found out, however, what the dogs were after on one of these escapades. They may have just been chasing something tasty to eat. There were about 20 dogs all told, some the white mastiffs and some black and white.

Sheep dogs hard at work!!

Sheep dogs

Shepherd's Chapel